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Authors: JEFFREY COHEN

Tags: #Detective, #funny, #new jersey, #writer, #groucho marx, #aaron tucker, #autism, #stink bomb, #lobbyist, #freelance, #washington, #dc, #jewish, #stinkbomb, #high school, #elementary school

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BOOK: A Farewell to Legs
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I decided to ignore Abby’s look and ask a question.
Hey, I’m a reporter. We do that. “I think what I meant was, what
did you see in the guy? I mean, we always thought he was kind
of. . .” I quickly remembered that Legs was dead, and
that stopped me.

“. . . an asshole? Well, that’s because
you were guys.”

“We still are. Kind of.”

“Louis was always nicer to a girl he wanted to
impress than he was to anybody else,” Stephanie said. “You didn’t
get to see what he was really like until he had gotten what he
wanted out of you.”

Abby sat down next to me. “I assume you mean he
wanted sex,” she said. Stephanie nodded. I gave Abigail an
“I-thought-you-said-to-shut-up-and-let-her-talk” look, and she gave
me a look with language you can’t print in a family newspaper.

“But it was more than that,” Steph went on. “He
decided he wanted me to marry him, even after I slept with him. He
thought I’d look good on his arm, so he kept up the charming act.
God, this is an awful way to talk about the recently murdered,
isn’t it?” She stood up. “Where do I throw out the beer bottle?”
she asked, sniffling a bit.

“Don’t worry about it,” Abby said. “Do you want
another one?” Stephanie shook her head. “I drank at the reunion,
and I still have to drive back to the hotel tonight.”

“You could stay here,” Abby answered. “We have a
sofa bed.”

“No. I’ve already taken up enough of your evening. I
should go,” said Stephanie. “I have to drive back in the morning.
Fact is, I would be driving back now, but both my sons are out of
town, so I don’t have to be there for them until tomorrow.”

“Back to D.C.?” I asked, and she nodded. “Was Legs
in the government?”

“He is. . . was, the head of a big
political foundation, People For American Values,” said Stephanie.
“He actually became pretty important. Not as important as he
thought
he was, but important.”

People for American Values. Somewhere in the back of
my knee-jerk liberal mind I remembered something, but couldn’t
classify it. I probably grimaced, and stored that bit of confusion
away until I could ask Abby, who knows everything.

Stephanie picked up her jacket from the banister
hook and put it on. “Isn’t there anything we can do to help you?” I
asked, but she shook her head.

“You’ve already done it,” she said. “You were here
when I needed you.”

“We live here,” I said.

She laughed, and kissed me on the lips, gently. It
wasn’t a sexual thing, but it got Abigail’s attention. Nobody who
isn’t me would have noticed, but she did narrow her eyes a
millimeter or two.

“What bothers me more than anything else,” Stephanie
said, “is
why
. I know Louis wasn’t the most lovable man on
the planet, and he had political enemies, but everybody in D.C. has
enemies. Why kill him?”

“The police will find out,” I said. “Legs was
important enough that they can’t just forget about it.”

I opened the front door for her, and as she was
about to walk out, she stopped. “Aaron,” she said.

I waited, but she didn’t say anything else.
“What?”

“Aaron,
you
. . . you found out who
killed that woman here, right? You could find out about Louis.”

I almost closed the door on her foot. “Oh, no.
Steph, no. The Madlyn Beckwirth story, that was. . .” I
looked to Abby for help, but after the kiss, my wife was not in a
charitable mood. “That was a fluke, a mistake. I’m just a magazine
writer. Honestly.”

But Stephanie hadn’t changed much since high school.
She knew how to get what she wanted, and her wheels were already
spinning fast. “One of the journalists Louis and I got to know is a
features editor at
Snapdragon
. And besides the music stuff,
you know they cover politics.”

Stephanie stepped back inside, and I closed the
door, so the neighbors wouldn’t be distracted by my terrified
screams so late at night. I felt the trap being sprung around
me.

“I know, Steph, but really. I don’t know anything
about politics. I write mostly about home entertainment
equipment.”

Steph was having none of it. “You know about murder
investigations, and you knew Louis. You could write it, Aaron.
Don’t turn me down now. I can get Lydia from
Snapdragon
to
call you tomorrow morning. Please.”

In times of crisis, my wife is always my strength. I
looked at her for help, and as usual, she came through with flying
colors.

“How much does
Snapdragon
pay per word?” she
asked.

Chapter
Five


W
ell, what did you
want
me to say?” asked Abby. I considered going downstairs
for some butter, to see if it would melt in her mouth, but I was
too tired. Stephanie had left, and we were in our bedroom, getting
ready for bed a good two hours later than we’d expected.

“I was hoping you’d come up with a reason I can’t
write a story about something I can’t possibly know about for a
editor I don’t know, whose arm is getting twisted to hire me, at a
magazine I’ve never worked for before. That’s all.” We start
getting ready for bed most nights by making the bed, since we
almost never do that when we get up in the morning.

“I thought you’d want to write it,” Abby said. She
pulled the sheet smooth on her side, and started straightening out
the blanket. “For crying out loud, Aaron, they pay two dollars a
word, and you’ve got to figure this is at least a 3,000-word piece.
That’s a nice chunk of change.” She had me there, but she couldn’t
stop, which is always a fatal error. “Besides, I figured you’d want
to do anything you could to help Ms. Cleavage.”

I pulled the blanket up on my side and started to
take off my jeans. “So that’s it,” I said. “You know, it’s funny.
I’ve never actually seen you jealous before. I wouldn’t have
expected it. I’d have quicker expected it of me.” I hung the jeans
on a hook sticking out of the closet door. We live in a very classy
house.

Abby satisfied herself that the bed was now
acceptable, and slid off the gym shorts she had on, then started
looking around the room for her pajamas. “I’m not jealous,” she
said casually. “I just find it amusing how easily you can be
played.”

“Played?” I stopped looking for a T-shirt disgusting
enough to sleep in, and walked to her side of the bed. “What do you
mean, played?”

“Oh, come on,” my wife chuckled. “She bats her eyes,
hikes up her boobs, and does that, ‘oh Aaron, you’re the only one
who can help me’ thing, and you go right for it.”

“She has no reason to ‘play me,’ as you so
endearingly put it.”

“She wants you to investigate her husband’s death,”
Abby said. “She wants you because she knows she can supervise the
investigation as long as you’re watching her bust line instead of
the facts.” Abby knelt down to look under the bed.

“Her bust line is a fact. Well, two facts actually.
Besides, why does Steph need to supervise the investigation?”


Steph
is from D.C. All those people are
control freaks.”

I sighed, which I don’t do often. “She’s not from
D.C.—she’s from Bloomfield, New Jersey.”

“And you’ve wanted to hump her ever since she lived
there.”

There are few things my wife does that seriously
annoy me, but when she talks the way she thinks men talk, she can
piss me off with the best of them. Mostly because
I
don’t
talk like that, and I’m pretty sure I’m a man. She found her pajama
bottoms under the bed, and when she stood up, holding them, I was
standing within a foot of her, looking right into her eyes. Abby
was a little startled, but she grinned, thinking she’d scored a
withering blow.

“I’d like to point out that I was looking for a way
not
to help her when you volunteered me,” I told her, my
breathing getting a little heavy. “Now, you listen to me. There is
no one more beautiful, no one smarter, no one sexier, no one
funnier, no one I’d rather be with on this planet, than you. You
are the absolute center of my life, and I would gladly devote all
my time on this earth to convincing you that nobody has ever loved
anyone as much as I love you, but unfortunately, we need to sleep,
eat, and pay the mortgage. So stop being a moron.”

She took a moment, smiled, and dropped her pajama
bottoms on the floor.

“Come on,” Abby said. “Let’s mess up the bed
again.”

And somehow, I forgot to ask whether she was
familiar with People for American Values.

Chapter
Six

L
ydia Soriano,
Snapdragon
’s features editor, called me at ten the next
morning. Impressive, especially considering it was a Sunday.
Stephanie, or Crazy Legs, must have had more clout than I’d
estimated.

“Mr. Tucker, we’re interested in a 5,000-word piece
on the murder of Louis Gibson. I understand you have some
background on the subject.” Lydia had a very businesslike voice,
but you could tell there was a human being in there somewhere.

“Call me Aaron. Please.” I started. “And actually,
no. I don’t have any background at all. What I have is a knowledge
of. . . Louis from his high school days and a very loose
friendship with his wife from around the same time.”

“I understand that you’re reluctant,” she said
without missing a beat. “But I’m told that you have investigated
some murders before.”

Stephanie must have been very persuasive. “I’ve
investigated exactly one murder, and I managed to solve it by
annoying the murderers enough that they came after me. I wouldn’t
exactly call that a stellar record.” I wanted
Snapdragon
to
know exactly what it was getting, if it was getting anything.

“You know, Aaron, you keep this up, and I’m going to
feel like you don’t
want
to work for us.” Well, what do you
know? There
was
a sense of humor there after all.

“I’ve always wanted to work for
Snapdragon.
In fact, I’ve queried you guys maybe fifty times in the past five
years. I just want you to have an accurate picture,” I told Lydia.
“If you hire me, you’re paying, um. . .”

“Ten thousand dollars.”

I took a cleansing breath, the only useful thing I
got from being a Lamaze coach twice. “. . . Ten thousand
dollars, for someone who is not an investigative reporter, a crime
reporter or a political reporter, and you’ll be hiring him to
investigate a crime that is, in all likelihood, politically
motivated. Don’t do it just because Stephanie Jacobs told you
to.”

“I’m not going to pretend I didn’t call because of
Stephanie’s reputation,” said Lydia. “But I do the assigning around
here, not her. And it’s my ass on the line if you turn out to be a
screw-up.”

“Don’t mince words, Lydia. Come right out and say
it.”

She chuckled. “Aaron, have you ever been a magazine
editor?”

“Not on your level, no.”

“One of the things you have to rely on is your own
instinct. I called you because Stephanie recommended you. I did it
because she’s a friend, and because her cooperation is going to be
central to a story that everybody who covers politics is going to
want. We’re tired of being thought of as
Rolling Stone
’s
slow-witted cousin, and we want to make a big splash. She’s giving
you exclusive access to her, and ‘exclusive’ means
exclusive
. She isn’t talking to anybody else. Also, I read
as many of your clips as I could get off the Web. But still, I
wouldn’t offer you the story if I called you and you sounded like
you were going to read through the police reports on the Internet
and write a story about the extinguishing of a strong voice for the
fundamentalist right on Capitol Hill. Frankly, I thought Louis
Gibson was. . .”

“. . . An asshole?”

“Pretty much.”

“He certainly was one in high school, and I haven’t
seen him since then, but I’m willing to bet he got worse. Am I
allowed to write that he was an asshole?”

Lydia didn’t miss a beat. “If you can back it up
with facts, sure.”

“Well, stop beating around the bush,” I said. “Ask
me if I want the ten grand.”

Chapter
Seven

M
onday morning was the
usual blur of sandwiches made and bagged, drink boxes, water
bottles, snacks and apples placed in lunch bags and boxes, clothing
located, teeth brushed, cereal poured, medication dispensed (Ethan
gets 15 milligrams of Ritalin every morning), hugs, kisses, hair
brushed, shoes lost, shoes found, more hugs, and pushing the kids
out the front door. All before eight in the morning.

I had an assignment from the
Newark
Star-Ledger
about new video products sold in New Jersey. I work
quite frequently for the
Star-Ledger
’s “Today” section,
which concerns itself with lighter, feature material. Travel,
parenting, consumer issues, that sort of thing. In this case, the
section was about advances in video technology (there hadn’t been
any lately, so I was making it up), and I’d been given a list of
four people the paper would like me to interview. I had reached
two, and needed to make a visible effort at the other two before
writing. The deadline was Wednesday, today was Monday, so I assumed
this would be no problem.

Still, it was only eight in the morning, and you
can’t count on anyone being in their office before nine, so I
started my day, as I usually do, with the
New York Times
crossword puzzle. I make a big show, when asked, about how it helps
me to think about words and increases my vocabulary, but the fact
is the puzzle is a good way to kill time and postpone having to do
anything that approaches work. Does it improve my vocabulary and
get me thinking about words? Sure. Does that make even a
one-percent difference in what I would write about video technology
for “Today”? Get real.

BOOK: A Farewell to Legs
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